“No thanks. We’d rather sit in the dark”.

Categories: Israel

There are enemies of everything Israeli who are like the storied Jewish mamas who prefer to suffer in darkness because suffering is more comfortable, suffering –and anger about the past—is what they are used to. That’s the simile that comes to mind as, gasp, good news rears its unexpected head in the West Bank and in Israel proper.

Ethan Bronner’s piece about the new oasis of cooperation in Jenin in Friday’s New York Times should warm the cockles of anyone with a heart. Normally, any piece about Israel or the territories that appears in the New York Times is greeted immediately with a host of passionate, cranky bloggers from the Israel-can-do-no-right crowd (as well as the Israel-can-do-no-wrong crowd). It is interesting that, thus far, the Bronner piece has been greeted mostly with silence.

Due to a number of factors in Jenin, Bronner reports:

“Civilians are planning economic cooperation — an industrial zone to provide thousands of jobs, mostly to Palestinians, and another involving organic produce grown by Palestinians and marketed in Europe by Israelis. Ministers from both governments have been visiting regularly, often joined by top international officials. Israeli Arabs are playing a key role.”

The article notes an infusion of Palestinian citizens of Israel into Jenin and its economy. They are playing the role many had long hoped they would play: a bridge between Israeli Jews and Arabs in the territories. And Bronner gives well-deserved, long-delayed credit to the Jewish and Arab Israelis of Gilboa, a region next to Jenin, whom co-existence advocates cite as a model of Arabs and Jews figuring out how to respect each other’s cultures and build a common future.

To his credit, Philip Weiss, normally a harsh critic of mainstream Israeli and American Jews, praised the article and the news it conveyed. But a Google search reveals that, by and large, pundits who are hostile to everything connected with Israel are saying…nothing.

I suspect it is a stunned, bewildered silence. Productive cooperation between the occupiers and the occupied, and possible models for cooperation between two states, has no place in the worldview of those who think Mahmoud Abbas and his people are “collaborators” and Israeli stooges, and that peace talks are just “fig leaves” to hide the ongoing colonization that, we are told, is the real motive of the Israelis.

One finds that perspective expressed eloquently on, for example, The Electronic Intifadeh.There, even the “Arab Peace Initiative” is judged to be “one terrible example of offering free concessions to the Israeli position without any demand for reciprocation.” One finds it on One State Solution and other sites that attract those who believe that two states are an impossibility, the Israelis have completely colonized the West Bank and precluded the possibility of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state, the only answer is a secular, bi-national state. Many of them describe Palestinian citizens of Israel the same way the ultra-right in Israel describes these citizens, i.e, people who cannot possibly be integrated into a majority Jewish state or shape a common destiny with fellow citizens who are Jews.

My purpose here is not to rehash the one-state vs. two-state debate or to castigate all of those who support the former. There are credible arguments for both. It may well be, indeed, that it is too late for two states, it is yesterday’s solution, and supporting it is like pushing for the break-up of Bell Telephone, or a road through a ghost town that was deserted long ago. I, for one, haven’t given up quite yet, in part because there is no practical alternative. But that’s a discussion for another time and place. Today, my purpose is to note the reaction –or lack of reaction—of the Israel-revilers and one-staters when there are glimmers of hope that the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority can work together for the betterment of both peoples. I predict that either the stunned silence will continue, or that we will see a spate of commentaries about the manner in which Bronner ignored Israel’s “crimes.”

The imperatives of daily life are forcing cooperation and the movement of buyers and sellers from one side of the Green Line to the other side. The same imperatives have prompted Jews and Arabs in Gilboa to defy skeptics and try to create a wholly new kind of Israeli identity.The imperatives of finding an enduring solution are prompting more cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli security forces in the West Bank.

There is at least a chance that what is happening in Jenin and Gilboa can be replicated elsewhere, isn’t there? There is at least a possibility that what has long been the missing link in the peace chain –trust—can be forged, town by town, bit by bit. And it is not unreasonable to believe that such cooperation could be institutionalized if a viable Palestinian state were established, and borders were fixed, with or without security barriers. Yes, we are a long way from moving from here to there. Even one step in the right direction is better than standing still, or reeling backwards.

But the situations in Jenin and Gilboa are discomfiting to those who have convinced themselves that anyone connected with the Zionist entity cannot be trusted, and there is no future for Palestinians living next to –or within– a majority-Jewish state. They don’t know how to cope with the news that Palestinians in what used to be a hotbed of West Bank radicalism are now trying to figure out how to work with, rather than against, their neighbors. They don’t know how to deal with an Israeli cabinet minister like Isaac Herzog, a Zionist blue blood, who says every Israeli Jewish student should learn the Koran and that real quality of opportunity for all citizens of Israel –not just de jure equality—should be the norm.

Something very similar happened in 2005, when the Rand Corporation released its fascinating proposal for a contiguous Palestinian state, where cities would be connected in an “arc” and linked by high-speed transportation. I’ve searched news archives to determine the reactions of one-state advocates and other critics of the Oslo process. There were a few objections. Mostly, there was silence. The idea that a functioning Palestinian state was indeed possible, with enough planning and money and creativity, simply could not be acknowledged, let alone disputed.

It is, apparently, impossible for some to wrestle with –let alone overcome– the instinct to sit in the dark and the gloom, furious about the past, convinced that mainstream Israeli Jews are constitutionally evil, natural-born oppressors who cannot be trusted. In my community, we are very familiar with this psychology. We encounter it all the time from those who say “the Arabs” will never stop trying to destroy “the Jews,” and compares anyone who thinks otherwise to Neville Chamberlain. Meanwhile, in Gilboa and Jenin, real people who live in the real, imperfect, but malleable world have important work to do.

Read more from Daniel Fleshler at his blog www.realisticdove.org

About Dan Fleshler, Board Member

Dan Fleshler, a New York-based media and public affairs strategist, is a board member of Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now and the Givat Haviva Educational Foundation. His book, "Transforming America's Israel Lobby-The Limits of Its Power and the Potential for Change"(a new release from Potomac Books) published in May of 2009 has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. He blogs at Realistic Dove (www.realisticdove.org/)
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